Vince Staples + Kenny Beats Make a Hip-Hop Album, and it’s so Beautifully, Simply That
Evan Dale // July 12, 2021
Put aside all of the bells and whistles. Leave a few bouncy 808’s, some half-recognizable samples, a steady bassline, and you’ve got yourself a rap album unfit for the short-lived trends; fit instead for the true test of time. Such a composition requires a producer with a sense of subtlety, a steady hand, and a uniform idea tethered akin from start to finish. Such a project start to finish – such a producer – resists the vibrancy and absurdity available in the digital age; understands, too, that all the fancy shit isn’t what has ever made a great hip-hop album a great hip-hop album in the first place. Kenny Beats is such a producer, and his newest 10-track composition – produced to the refined touch of a gentle genius by he, and he alone – sets itself up to be just such a timelessly minimalist classic. Thankfully for Kenny Beats, he’s got a good friend in Vince Staples. And thankfully for the Long Beach rapper and for his self-titled album, he’s got Kenny Beats. Together, the two make a hip-hop album, and it is so beautifully, simply that.
There is something inherently telling about a great artist’s self-titled project coming nearly decade into their career. It speaks to a sense of vulnerable self-renaissance, to a desire at making something genuinely theirs, towards honesty in their music; honesty in their words. And to be fair, Vince Staples has always boasted a knack for being up front and honest. His spoon-fed, effortless flair at delivering penmanship more encapsulating and immersive than most has long left him with the label of a street poet. Since 2014’s Hell Can Wait mixtape, he’s been enthralling listeners with a steady dose of intrinsically rooted pain coupled to the occasional comedic reprieve. Through it all – all the landscapes he’s painted for listeners and waves he’s made in music – Vince Staples feels like the most Vince Staples that Vince Staples has ever been.
Addictingly simple in its formulaic construct, yet unrelatable to anything that isn’t already a product of Vince Staples, the project is a dynamic exhibition of the identity that has always been his own. And that identity boils down through the last ten years and through these ten tracks as a rapper worthy of any era, relegated to a uniquely balanced position between the hip-hop game and the game of life from where hip-hop is rooted in its foundations. And from those foundations, the pillars of hip-hop – of rap – rise into prominent and simple rhythm and poetry. And there is no way to take any given track of the Vince Staples ten, boil it down to its innermost identity, and see that that identity – that Vince Staple’s – is anything but simply good ass rap. There is no fat needs trimming on the project. There is none of the unnecessary complexity that can get in the way of a modern hip-hop album. It is exactly what it is supposed to be – what it claims to be: Vince Staples.
And what Vince Staples is supposed to be is an honest, introspective, halfway morose display of vulnerable strength, laughing in the face of the try-hard, overproduced, messy web of modern music. Quick-hitting, the ten inclusions on the album barely eclipse the 20-minute mark, but without a breath wasted from beginning to end, it feels much longer. There is no thematic discourse tethering it from start to finish, no complicated concept, no skits. There are unending bars that allow the project to be played in order or on shuffle without really needing to be aware that an order exists at all. There are some catchy hooks, and a boundless exploration into the possibilities of lo-fi hip-hop for the digital era. And there is, perhaps most importantly, a dynamic relationship between both Vince Staples and Kenny Beats, and between their internal relationships balancing restraint and subsequent vulnerability.
If a hip-hop project from a big name that is at once easier listening and more influentially blue-printing has been released in recent memory, we haven’t heard it. But one thing is for certain, we’re bound to be hearing Vince Staples over and over and over again for as long as we care to listen. Its pointedly minimal genius is a reminder to all the often overdone soundscape of the now, that doing less is perhaps the best way to say more.